Please, Use Some Cow Sense

No need to declare your love publicly in a way that makes others cringe with embarrassment. The occasion can be celebrated - quietly.

So, you don't think you could, or should, put a price on romance?

At least one upmarket retailer is offering a five-pack of Valentine's Day cards featuring a cuddly duck at a special discount of $7.50, reduced from $4 for each card. Do you know anyone who would send five separate individuals a ducky card declaring, "I'm quackers over you"?

(If you do, I want to meet this person.)

Valentine's Day gets worse each year. The cards degenerate into juvenile goo and Classified greetings make you cringe with bottomless embarrassment. Perfectly grown adults insist on sharing publicly their personal pet names for each other, often using language so private as to make you wonder if they wouldn't just prefer to make out on prime-time TV and get it over and done with.

No, I'm not being a wet blanket or a cynic. Cynicism is probably the highest form of cowardice, for it means you have deliberately and consciously stopped being open to new experiences beyond your own.

Given a choice, the cynic always behaves as if he or she is never wrong about the very subjects on which there is hardly ever a right or wrong. Such as FA Cup penalty decisions. Or love.

So, Valentine's Day - or what it represents - is not an occasion for cynicism. Just use some cow sense and everyone will appreciate it.

If you're a moony teenager, or even if you're not, Feb 14 can be like a nasty overnight zit. You get up one morning and the marketers, the media and your peers and colleagues have erupted suddenly into Valentine's Day fever.

All those flowers, chocolates, talk of candle-lit dinners - yes, yes, everyone knows it's all a marketing conspiracy, but it still pricks when you're not part of the hype.

The great success of marketing has been to make well-adjusted individuals, who find themselves without a date for this one day of the year, feel as if they just got fired from life for no reason whatsoever.

Poor old St Valentine, to have his head lopped off on Feb 14 for defying a Roman emperor's orders not to marry any soldiers during a time of war. The priest took pity on lovers desperate to be married and defied Claudius II, only to lose his head. From this, you should not conclude that you must have a date on Valentine's Day because everyone else appears to be embraced in once-a-year sentiment. In fact, what you should deduce from poor old Valentine's execution, is that "true" love almost always breaks the rules, seldom follows a straight line, usually defies the status quo, is hard work, and has a bad habit of doing the opposite of what it's told. It certainly doesn't say, "Oh, die lah! It's Feb 11 already and I haven't booked a restaurant!"

My house guest is reading over my shoulder as I write this and is now protesting loudly. She is a great believer in Valentine's Day - presents.

Why, as I recall, she received a car on one Valentine's Day, tied up in a loud, red bow. I called her a spoilt brat and she called me jealous. I said then, nice car, too bad about the giver. That was when she remarked I hadn't received anything. (No, really, we are very good friends. Really.)

It was not strictly true that I hadn't received anything that Valentine's Day. Technically true, but not strictly so. As the new Nora Ephron movie puts it so blandly, I got mail.

What the hype over Valentine's Day has done is it has created a lazy language for people in relationships. You can declare, very publicly, what you don't feel at all. Or express weakly, what you feel most deeply, using that cliches language of the Valentine's Day hype.

Don't know what to say? You don't have to try, just book dinner. Or get your secretary to order roses. Once you've done that, you're safe until the birthday or the next significant date, whatever it might be.

Think of all the insincerity turned into purchases among people pressurised into tokens of Valentine's Day affection. And you can also make everyone who is not in love with your beloved, die of discomfort by reading your cutesy romantic messages on billboards, digital screens and sickly cards as large as a windscreen.

By all means, be as icky as you like if you must show your undying love and affection in public Valentiny language, but a little subtlety goes a long way. I truly, cross my heart, don't want to know that someone's Valentine is called "Honey Bun Bun". Somehow, such information does not enrich my life, it just makes me want to pull out my finger nails.

The thing about love and its myriad expressions is that it is largely a silent act in many small parts, witnessed mainly between two individuals for most of the time. Quiet acts, unseen by others and unapplauded by an audience, but sustained through the daily wear and tear, long after you've forgotten you ever called anyone, much less your Valentine, Honey Bun Bun.

My house guest says she likes being called "Honey Bun Bun". And although she kept the gift (the car) and ditched the last Valentine (the husband who gave the car), Feb 14 is still a hoot for her each time it rolls around.

She got the car and I got mail. A poem, not even original but copied from a library book on a scrap paper and popped into a plain envelope. No card, no ducks, no quacks. Best gift I ever received. I cried buckets.

Enjoy Valentine's Day - softly. It's not a public occasion, really.

Monica Gwee
The Straits Times, Life!, Thursday, February 11, 1999.
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